Posted on: November 3, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: November 3, 2011 12:17 pm
 

Bradley's play a doomsday scenario for PGA Tour?

ORLANDO, Fla. – For those who like to stir the pot with a spoon the size of a rowboat oar, the news from China on Thursday was certainly some savory fare.

Rising rookie Keegan Bradley, one of seven players with two victories this season on the PGA Tour, fired a scintillating 65 to take a two-stroke lead at the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.

Get out the ladles, folks. This is quite a cauldron of quandary.

If Bradley plays like this for three more rounds and wins, let’s count the reasons why this development should make folks at tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach just a tad uncomfortable:

 Last week, after the tour completely and embarrassingly whiffed on its scheduling and postseason honors timing, the mailing of the ballots for the 2011 Player of the Year were pushed back two weeks after. After a conversation with a reporter, tour officials realized that the HSBC tournament counts as an official victory if a PGA Tour member wins the event. Earlier, the tour had stated ballots would be mailed out after the so-called season finale at Disney World, which was won in heroic fashion by English star Luke Donald, seemingly staking a huge claim to the Player of the Year trophy. A victory by Bradley would make him the lone player with three official wins, surely stealing votes away from Donald, the world No. 1, and again focusing the spotlight on the tour’s hugely controversial decision to delay the ballots.

 Bradley, of course, is an American. For fun, look up “jingoism” in the dictionary. Sprinkle it into your daily vocabulary between now and the weekend. You might have reason to use the term on Sunday night, especially if your are a fan of Donald and his stellar season.

 Despite two wins and a major title, Bradley isn’t on the Presidents Cup team, a decision that will become even more outrageous and indefensible if he wins in China. All Bradley did was win the PGA Championship in his first-ever appearance in a major, beating the deepest field in golf in 2011. The PGA featured 98 of the top 100 players in the world, or a whopping 12 more than the next-best global field for the year in that regard.

 A Bradley victory on Sunday would steer even more potentially unkind scrutiny toward Bill Haas and slumping Tiger Woods, the wild-card players who were added to the U.S. Presidents Cup team by captain Fred Couples. Woods has been struggling with his game for two years and has played exactly once in two months. Haas is the FedEx Cup champion, but is also the son of Couples’ assistant captain, Jay Haas. Hardly a pretty scenario for either, especially since they were added at the expense of Bradley.

 A victory by Bradley would underscore the idiocy of the Presidents Cup qualification system. The 10 automatic picks on the two teams are nailed down two months before the matches are played, during the FedEx Cup series. Moreover, according to those who have crunched the comparative numbers, Bradley would already have made the U.S. roster if the Ryder Cup points process had been used.

After his opening round, Bradley was asked about Donald's position. The Englishman had seemingly nailed down the honors and awards last month at Disney, only to have the tour yank the rug out from under his feet. Donald isn't playing this week because his wife is set to deliver the couple's second daughter at any moment.
 
"All I'm trying to do is win this golf tournament," Bradley said. "I know there's a lot on the line, and there's some awards to be won. I'm sure Luke is not very interested in this tournament. I'm sure he's sleeping."

Maybe, maybe not. But you can bet the folks in Ponte Vedra are tossing and turning some, because this could get downright uncomfortable.

Posted on: October 26, 2011 3:59 pm
 

Stricker and Woods: Still PrezCup's dynamic duo?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The top-ranked player competing at the Presidents Cup will be arriving to play with a sizeable chunk of competitive rust to shake off.

World No. 4 Steve Stricker, who has paired with great success alongside former world No. 1 Tiger Woods at the last two international cup competitions, still plans to play in Australia next month, but hasn't entered any tournaments beforehand and doesn't expect to.

Stricker’s manager, Jon Heaton of IMG, said the recuperating 44-year-old doesn’t plan to play before the event, set for Nov. 17-20 in Melbourne. Most of the American team will play in the Australian Open or enter the European Tour event in Singapore the week before.

Stricker hadn’t played since the Tour Championship because of a problem with a bulging disc in his neck that prompted a withdrawal a week earlier from the BMW Championship, both staged in mid-September. He has been receiving therapy at his home in Wisconsin and affirmed that he intends to play in Melbourne.

In lieu of tournament action, Stricker plans to work on his game in Arizona before heading to Australia before the matches. Woods, a hugely controversial captain's pick and Stricker's supposed playing partner for the matches, has played once since missing the cut at the PGA Championship, finishing 30th, but is entered in the Aussie Open.

So, wither the Dream Team's fate? The duo was a combined 5-1-1 at the last two Presidents and Ryder matches.

Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 1:32 pm
 

At last, tour defends Donald ballot botching

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the background, the sound of papers rustling could be distinctly heard, on more than one occasion, as the PGA Tour’s head of communications on Wednesday at last tried to explain the not-so-great Ballot Blunder of 2011.

So, even when finally offering an explanation, two days after the fact, the tour had to script and recite the words of its alibi?

After changing the rules Monday with regard to the timeline of balloting for the top-player honors, an award that world No. 1 Luke Donald seemingly had all but clinched with his clutch victory at the so-called season finale Sunday at Disney World, the tour has been taking some hits in the court of public opinion.

You're about to understand why.

Appearing by phone on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, communications chief Ty Votaw attempted to mount a defense of the tour's decision to hold off on the ballot mailings for two more weeks, but he certainly didn’t say anything to make Donald seem like less of a sympathetic figure.

Moreover, Votaw didn’t engender much goodwill regarding the tour’s ham-handed handling of the issue, which has become a sizeable talking point in some quarters. Below are some excerpts -- and devil's advocate counterpoints -- of Votaw’s comments on the issue during the Morning Drive chat show.

For the purposes of background: The tour said last week as Donald was winning the Disney season finale that it would mail Player of the Year ballots to the membership this week. On Monday,the ballot mailing was pushed back. The delay allows players in the HSBC Champions field in early November the chance to put a final dent in Donald’s status as the perceived POY favorite, well after the tour indicated the season would have formally concluded and the polling period would have begun. 

Said Votaw: “A journalist contacted us on Monday to confirm whether HSBC was in fact an official victory … When asking that question, it focused us on what the impact of a potential victory at HSBC would be on information that membership would receive if ballots went out this week as opposed to going out after HSBC."

That's three HSBC drop-ins already. And these are just the seemingly scripted warmup comments.

Votaw: “This is really, in our mind, a question of fairness to HSBC, so it’s result as an official-victory event could be considered by a voting member, just like it was last year; fairness to the voting body, so that the same information is possessed by all voting members when the ballots are sent out; and fairness to all those nominated [for postseason awards], so that their playing records in official events are reflected on the ballots.

“If this change hadn’t been made, you could have had members voting on incomplete information if they voted before the HSBC, versus those who chose to vote after the results of the HSBC were known. So it really came down to a matter of fairness and we felt this was the right decision to make.”

A phone call to Donald to explain this rationale might have been nice. The tour never inititiated contact. And some say Donald is an aloof sort?

Votaw: “Nothing whatsoever about this decision takes away the merits of Luke’s exemplary performance this year in voters’ minds.”

Well, except that another two weeks will have passed, and PGA Tour players have the attention span of most Americans these days – which is to say, about the length of an average text message.

Votaw: “But this is not about Luke Donald. The analysis would have been the same and the decision would have been the same if Webb Simpson had won.

“It wasn’t an oversight brought up by a journalist. The journalist simply asked the question if HSBC was still an official victory.”

Oh, and then the timing gears in the Ponte Vedra Beach drivetrain finally cranked into reverse.

Votaw: “But the analysis and the decision was made after we looked at whether HSBC was included last year as an official-victory event, and we felt it was fair to HSBC as an official-victory event to continue. That would have been disrespectful to HSBC.”

Yeah, by all means, appease all-omnipotent sponsor HSBC, with zero regard as to the fairness to Luke and everybody else who believed he had won the season finale. Trick or treat!

Votaw: “I mean, the answer is, if we had not made this decision, if the change wasn’t made and the results of HSBC were somehow impactful to this discussion, you guys would probably have come on Monday after HSBC and had a nice little animated discussion about how we should have included those results.”

Maybe so. But can we get back to the gratuitous HSBC mentions? That’s only about a dozen so far. Just think if it were a bank with a real U.S. presence.

Votaw: “If you want to characterize it as an oversight, that’s fine.”

Gee, how about if the tour admits it screwed the pooch, not to mention Donald, instead of asking the media to explain and describe the nature of the gaffe?

Votaw: “We corrected the oversight, and we think correcting the oversight was the right thing to do. I’d rather do that than do nothing and then be criticized for not doing anything about an oversight.”

At that point, the conversation swerved into the odd definition of the HSBC event itself, and whether it ought to be included in the Player of the Year discussion anyway. Donald pointed out the quasi-official nature of the tournament on Tuesday, admitting he was hardly doing cartwheels over the tour's ballot blunderings and last-minute inclusion of the China event. To wit, the HSBC isn’t fully official on the U.S. tour. The money doesn’t count, and it’s only considered an official victory if an existing PGA Tour member wins it. For example, last year, European Tour veteran Francesco Molinari of Italy won and was not granted U.S. tour membership.

Votaw: “I’m not sure there are any vagaries about this, because, again, it was considered last year as far as the Player of the Year and it’ll be considered this year as far as the Player of the Year because of the change that we made.”

If that assertion is true, and that's clearly a matter of opinion, then it's the only thing about the whole process that hasn't seemed cloudy.

Posted on: October 24, 2011 6:36 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Oh, wait, Luke: Tour season's not over after all

ORLANDO, Fla. -- After a season of utter parity, most of us thought we finally had a grip on the PGA Tour’s wide-open Player of the Year thing.

Not so fast.

Why?

Because the tour ain’t so swift.

Last week at the season finale at Disney World, news outlets were told that the tour would be mailing ballots for Player of the Year voting either today or Tuesday, since the money title had been clinched and the last official event had ended.

Well, turns out, there’s official, semi-official, and just plain embarrassing.

On Monday, the tour brass in Ponte Vedra Beach instead elected to wait another two weeks after realizing it had made a scheduling oversight, and will now postpone sending out the ballots until next month.

While that is arguably the most prudent course of action given that the season really isn’t over after all, it certainly raises the question of who’s minding the store, doesn’t it?

The confusion mostly stems from the fact that there are more false endings to the U.S. tour season than on the entire Beatles White Album, and this season, the last event on the ledger left the tour in a red-faced position.

The gaffe apparently was pointed out to the tour by a beat reporter on Monday who noted that because two quasi-official Asian events set for the next two weeks were moved back after Disney on this season’s lineup card, a handful of players still in the mix for top-player and top-rookie honors should be given the opportunity to make a last splash before ballots were mailed. A tour communications official said he could not speak to "the timing or what prompted the change." 

So now we get two more weeks of the season that never ends, a full fortnight of more hype, last-ditch Hail Marys and potentially ballot-bending accomplishments. Against fields that are one-half and one-third the size of a regular-season event.

This week’s event in Malaysia and next week’s HSBC Champions event in China are sanctioned by the PGA Tour, but fall into weird classification cracks. The money on the two limited-field cash grabs is unofficial, but the tour last year designated the HSBC as counting as an official tournament victory … if it’s claimed by a member of the PGA Tour.

Got it?

That means that for entrants like Keegan Bradley, one of seven players tied with a tour-high two wins this season, will get another chance to become the first player to collect a trio of titles. Masters winner Charl Schwartzel is also expected to play, and a victory could mean he gets a few PoY votes, too, or closes in on Bradley for the tour’s top-rookie honors.

Nothing wrong with that – though it should have been noticed and noted before Monday.

Beyond that central point is another concern. Frankly, anybody familiar with the thin attention span of the average tour player won’t find this prediction wildly off-base: The delay in mailing the ballots won’t help world No. 1’s Luke Donald much.

In the minds of many, Donald nailed down the Player of the Year award on Sunday when he shot 30 on the back nine at Disney to win his second U.S. event of the season, clinching the money title as well as two separate trophies for having the season’s best adjusted stroke average.

Based on the recency theory alone – and the fact that Disney World is still echoing with calls of Luuuuuuke -- it’s not a huge stretch to assume that a player with a ballot in hand by mid-week would have been much more likely to recall Donald’s Disney heroics than if the voter is asked to wait 2-3 more weeks to cast a vote.

The earnings title aside, the consensus was that Donald nailed down the PoY award, which was a huge reason he added the Disney tournament to his schedule in the first place.

Now we wait until the HSBC event in China ends on Nov. 6?

The first fake ending came at the FedEx Cup finale in Atlanta in September. You know, the one routinely marketed as the “season-ending playoffs.”

Yeah, except for the four events in the Fall Series.

Oh, and two more in Asia. Note to Ponte Vedrans: When it comes time to order 2012 office supplies from Dunder Mifflin, buy a couple of calendars.

This rant is officially over. Though just to level the field, that notion is subject to further review.

Posted on: October 23, 2011 7:18 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2011 7:35 pm
 

Storybook finish gives Donald a Disney win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The writing was already on the wall -- or in golf terms, the scoreboard.

A day earlier, the situation had been similarly scripted in his telephone.

World No. 1 Luke Donald's caddie sent his boss a text message that attempted to buoy his hopes, and given that Donald started the final round with a five-stroke deficit, any positive puffery was surely welcome.

"I texted him last night and said that we hadn’t really had a good run yet," caddie Gareth Lord said. "But I didn’t really expect him to do this."

Only the most delusional Disney dreamer could have conjured it up.

Saving the best for last, Donald authored one of the most memorable endings in PGA Tour history, making 10 birdies in his first 15 holes at the season finale to win the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic by two strokes, and claiming the U.S. money title in the process.

"It's hard to put into words," he said. "It's one of the most satisfying wins of my career, because it was do or die."

It was the jaw-dropping fare that Disney makes movies about. If it had been any more outlandish, it would have been animated.

Seemingly buried after a bogey at the eighth hole left him five shots back and tied for 10th place, Donald birdied the first six holes of the back nine in the most crystalline, crisp display of clutch play in his career, finishing with an 8-under 64 that represented the lowest closing round of the season by an eventual winner.

"This was a dream year," said Donald, 34, who has four worldwide wins, two on the PGA Tour. "I think I answered a lot of critics' questions."

In a season that was punctuated by a bazillion question marks as far as honors and awards, Donald ended it with a series of exclamation points.

Not originally committed to play Disney, he added the tournament at the commitment deadline after Webb Simpson passed him last week on the money list, knocking Donald to No. 2 in U.S. earnings. Seeking to become the first player to top both the PGA and European tours in money, Donald added Disney, the finale in the States.

"Having this amount on the line, coming up and shooting 30 on the back nine on Sunday, finding the shots when I needed to, really will mean a lot to me and the people that I work with," Donald said.

In the process, he became the seventh player to record two wins in the States this year -- nobody has more -- and if you believe in the recency theory, he should be loading up his mantel in Chicago with all the major hardware the tour has on offer.

He clinched the prestigious Vardon Trophy for the lowest stroke average, claimed the Arnold Palmer award for topping the money list and should have placed a stranglehold on the Player of the Year, unless his tour brethren are in a catatonic stupor when they fill out their ballots, which will be mailed this week.

Donald did all that with the most personally rewarding and gratifying display of his life, knowing that he had to win this week to have a reasonable chance of catching Simpson, with whom he was paired all four days. Indeed, as though the tension wasn't ratcheted up enough, Simpson held a two-shot lead over the Englishman with eight holes to play.

Win the tournament? He was getting waxed by the guy in his own threesome.

"I had to really dig deep to find the energy to do that," said Donald, who has played nine of the last 12 weeks, all over the planet.

They had to dig deep to find a base of comparison for what he accomplished. The last time a player came from behind to win the U.S. money list on the season's final day was in 1996, when Donald was still a schoolboy.

"At that point, I had to pull something out of a hat -- a rabbit out of a hat," he said of the back-nine climb. "Although a rabbit's not really Disney."

It was darned Disneyesque enough. Like a rabbit, the birdies started reproducing quickly.

Considered one of the best putters in the game, he made 84 feet of birdie putts in his six-birdie run starting on No. 10, including a 19-footer on the 14th hole, which he had played in 3-over par in his first two tries. Then he topped that with a 45-foot bomb on the 15th, which the typically understated veteran celebrated with a couple of fist pumps, a yell, and a grim big enough to be featured in the theme park's nightly fireworks show.

Never a place that has attracted big galleries, fans started migrating to Donald's group.

"I thought, 'I ought to watch some of this,'" said Orange County Sheriffs captain Michael Osborne, who was assigned to the group's security contingent. "But when the fans started showing up, I actually had to do my job."

With a few dozen British fans in the gallery throng, the yells of Luuuuuuke began permeating the air every few moments. Meanwhile, back home in suburban Chicago, his wife Diane, who is two weeks away from her due date for delivering the couple's second child, was shopping for a baby gear as her hubbie stumbled on the eighth hole. Three hours later, she was playfully asking whether they should name their soon-to-be-newborn daughter "Minnie Donald."

Well, that has a better ring than Ralph. Donald's longtime clothier, Ralph Lauren, has to pony up a seven-figure bonus because Luke topped the U.S. tour in earnings, which will buy a whole lotta baby gear. It was all a bit overwhelming.

"You drive through Disney and there's a sign that says, 'This is where dreams come true,'" Donald said.

It seemed more like deliriums.

He's halfway to a professional first. Donald leads the European Tour money list by roughly $1.8 million, and though he plans to take the next five weeks off for the birth of his daughter, is set to play in at least one more Euro event. Donald also clinched the PGA of America Player of the Year Award on Sunday.

One other U.S. honor remains to be settled, the Jack Nicklaus award to the top player, decided by a vote of his peers. PGA Tour players undoubtedly rank among the more self-absorbed beings on the planet, so, hopefully they were paying attention.

"He played great, hit it close, made the putts, and I don’t know what else you can say," playing partner Scott Gutschewski said. "That was pretty close to flawless. It was fun to watch."

Then came the obvious question.

"I don’t know who I’ll vote for," Gutschewski said.

What's left to ponder, people?

Nobody won more tournaments, more money or had a lower stroke average. Nobody had more top-10 finishes, with 14 in 19 starts, than Donald. That's two more top-10 finishes, in seven fewer starts, than Simpson, who was second on that list.

He did it all in unforgettable Sunday style. No knock on Simpson, Keegan Bradley or the other players with two PGA Tour victories this year, but if the American players don’t vote for Donald when the ballots are mailed, the process is a complete sham and future honors should be decided by a panel of experts who are actually paying attention.

Simpson said he would vote for himself, of course, but he was as impressed as the rest of us with Donald's incredible finishing kick.

"We both had our moments out there of playing great golf this week," Simpson said. "He did his at the end, when it counts."

When it counts the most.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I bailed on watching Donald's threesome and headed back to the media center after his sloppy bogey at the eighth, which seemed like the death knell at the time. Turns out, he had a Hollywood ending in store for us all.

I mentioned it to him afterward, while staring at my feet.

"Sorry you left early," he smirked.

Given his storybook, back-nine theatrics, not as sorry as I am.

Category: Golf
Posted on: October 22, 2011 6:20 pm
Edited on: October 22, 2011 6:23 pm
 

Leonard bags birdies, Disney lead, too

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Wildlife sightings at the Disney World courses are hardly unusual, with a variety of gators, deer, wild turkeys and the like pretty much having the run of the place.

As Justin Leonard was playing the fifth hole in the final group Saturday, a huge hawk landed on the green, took an unhurried look around, then flapped into the distance as Leonard prepared to hit a lengthy pitch shot to the green.

He missed it.

The bird sighting, not the shot.

"I did see an owl," he said.

He didn’t miss much else in the third round, holing an incredible three wedge shots in a five-hole span on the front nine to claim a share of the 54-hole lead at 14-under in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

Leonard, 39, seems to have some sort of magic touch around here, hokey Disney cracks notwithstanding. Two years ago, he played in the final group at Disney and lost in a playoff to Davis Love, which represents Leonard's best result in that 24-month span. In all, this week marks only the third time in six seasons that the 12-time tour winner has carried at least a share of the lead into the final round.

Nobody had to search long, or hard, for the reasons why. The cheer from the ninth green was precipitated by the denoument of the three holed wedge shots, a 35-yard flop shot over a greenside bunker. It also capped a wild exchange between Leonard, who finished with a 2-under 70 and is tied with rookie Kevin Chappell for the lead, and playing partner Henrik Stenson.

It all started with the fifth hole, where Leonard hit a pitch-and-run shot from 70 feet that slammed into the flag and went in the cup. Stenson then holed a sand shot on the next hole, prompting a playful exchange of winks and nods.

On the eighth, Leonard used a wedge from the fringe to belly a shot into the cup for birdie from 22 feet, and as he was retrieving the ball, Stenson playfully stuck his putter in very close proximity to Leonard's derriere as he bent over.

"I was getting the ball out of the hole and he was doing something behind me because I heard him laughing," Leonard said. "Henrik and I have played a lot of golf together. We've played in some Ryder Cup matches against each other, we've played at the Accenture Match Play a couple of times, and I still think he's probably up on me as far as chipping in."

After missing the ninth green with a wild approach shot, Leonard really holed a head-shaker with the lob shot to a short-side flagstick location as Stenson watched from the green.
 
"He dropped his putter and started coming over, and I was telling my caddie, 'Just keep him away from me, just keep him away from me,'" Leonard laughed. "But you know, we're just having fun. He's a little goofy, I'm a little goofy, so we have a good time together."

That's an entirely appropriate use of verbiage this week, of course.

Of the players within four strokes of the lead, three are winless rookies and one, Nick O'Hern, has never mustered a victory on either the European or PGA tours. Veterans Tom Pernice and Billy Mayfair, between them, haven’t won on tour in a decade or longer. Stenson, the 2009 winner of the Players Championship, has been mired in a slump ever since and entered the week at No., 180 in earnings.

So for Leonard, rebuilding his game with a new sports psychologist and putting routine, it's all on the table for the plucking.

"It's nice to be in this position and to have an opportunity like this week," he said. "Even if it's the last week of the year, it's great progress and I think this will give me a big boost for these next couple months when I'm at home taking some time off and working on my game here and there and getting ready for next year."

Category: Golf
Posted on: October 22, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: October 22, 2011 5:16 pm
 

Donald fumbles 14th, faces steep Sunday task

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- To use familiar local parlance, in Captain Jack Sparrow terms, Luke Donald had all the plunder within arm's reach.

The world No. 1 was sailing along Saturday, had moved into a share of fourth place and was only three strokes off the lead -- and facing a comparatively easy par-5 hole.

Twenty minutes later, his chances of becoming the first player to top the money list on the game's two majors tours, and to claim the PGA Tour's top-player award, likely went sailing into Davy Jones' locker.

If it turns out that Donald misses wining the U.S. money title by a few bucks or positions on the leaderboard Sunday night, which represents the last round of the season, he'll know exactly where he met his watery grave.

As his very pregnant wife, Diane, said in an utterly spot-on tweet from their home in suburban Chicago, "Damn you, 14th hole!!!"

That's as blunt and succinct as it gets, really.

Donald fired a 2-under-par 70 on the Magnolia Course in the third round of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, but finished the day five strokes off the lead and T14, thanks to the fateful, and possibly fatalistic, 14th.

For the second day in a row, Donald chopped up the par-5 hole, which ranks aninviting 14th for the week in scoring average. After yanking a layup shot into the drink Friday and making a bogey, he shoved a 3-wood tee shot into one of Walt Disney's jungles, then compounded the error when he finally reached the green.

Faced with a 35-foot putt for par, he rolled it eight feet past the hole and missed the next attempt, making a deflating double bogey that, realistically, turned Sunday's final round into a do-or-die, kamikaze effort.

Remarkably, it ended a streak of 483 holes in succession in PGA Tour-sanctioned play without a three-putt green, dating to the third round of the Canadian Open on July 23. For context, that's nearly 27 complete rounds without an official three-jack, according to the tour's computer scoring system.

"Do I win a prize?" Donald cracked. "Does it get me an extra vote?"

The latter is a reference to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year balloting, where Donald knows he almost certainly needed a victory this week in the season finale to sway his voting brethren. That mountain got a lot steeper after the tee ball on the 14th hole sailed into the junk.

Donald was 4 under for the day through and three strokes behind leader Justin Leonard when he stepped to the tee. After the shot immediately veered wide right, he let go of the grip, and the club clanged to the ground as he kicked at it with a foot.

"It was a poor shot and it got what it deserved," he said.

The final result, Donald said, was as misleading as his 1-under 71 on the same layout Friday, when he labored to keep the ball in play for much of the day but still managed a respectable score.

"Yesterday, I hit a dozen really poor shots and shot 71," he said. "Today, I made two bad swings and almost shot the same score."

The second was a yanked tee shot into the hazard on the 16th, which resulted in another penalty shot and a bogey.

From a simplicity standpoint, letting so many other players into the mix makes his Sunday task harder to predict, but as he turned and looked a large scoreboard behind the 18th green, he figured a 10-under 62 might give him a puncher's chance. Among those ahead of him on the board is Webb Simpson, who leads the tour in earnings by $363,029 over second-place Donald.

"Very difficult," he said of sprint ahead. "I need to go low and get some help from everyone."

Whether Donald still has the legs for one last sprint will be interesting to see. He's played nine of the past 12 weeks in places as far flung as Chicago, Spain, St. Andrews and Orlando. With a personal trip to London last week during an off-week.

"It's been a long year," said Donald, who plans to spend a few weeks at home following Sunday's round. "It's hard to measure my energy level."

He had enough gas in the tank to make one promise. As for the freakin' 14th, there's one acceptable result for Sunday.

"I'm going to birdie that hole tomorrow," he said.

That, and nine more just like it, might do the trick.

Category: Golf
Posted on: October 21, 2011 6:35 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2011 6:35 pm
 

Duel at Disney goes to third-stage showdown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After 10 months and more shots than anybody could possible care to tally, there's still not much separating Luke Donald and Webb Simpson.

On the Disney World scoreboard, there's zero gap whatsoever.

The players ranked first and second on the PGA Tour money list, in the field this week to try to secure that distinction as well as other possible postseason honors, played the first two rounds together at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic and came out in a dead heat.

After all this time, and two days rubbing elbows, the show ponies are both tied for 14th at 7 under with two official rounds remaining in the official season. They are five shots off the  lead.

"It's been fun," Simpson said. "I think we'll be close enough to each other, if not together, tomorrow."

Very prescient. After the dust settled, they'll be paired in the third round Saturday, too.

Donald, ranked No. 1 in the world and hoping to win the Disney title to surge past earnings leader Simpson, fought hard all day to keep the ball on the property and shot a 1-under 71. Simpson shot 69.

"It was hard work today," Donald said. "It could have been a lot worse."'

Donald was fighting a sinus issue that zapped his mojo for much of the day. He's also logged more jet miles over the past two weeks than most airline pilots.

"I struggled with my energy levels today," he said. "I definitely didn’t feel very comfortable over the ball."

After a season of mostly scintillating results, Donald laughed about how he was missing shots both ways, yet managed to stay in the hunt.

"It could have been an 80," he said. "I'm struggling to find the things I did well today."

One shot that could hurt down the stretch was a fairly routine layup shot on the par-5 14th that he pulled into a water hazard.

"Sometimes you've got to fight ugly and play ugly," Donald said. "It was very ugly today, it wasn't very good at all. Obviously it's not the hardest course in the world, but I didn't do many things well today.
 
It's disappointing. But sometimes you're going to have rounds like that. I remember at the BMW at Wentworth there was a round that was very similar -- didn't play very well, kind of ground it out and kind of kept myself there or thereabouts, and hopefully I can do the same.

"It would be nice to shoot a low one tomorrow, get in the mix, and make this one a bit fun for me and fun for everyone else."

Simpson echoed Donald's sentiments for much of the week.

"We want to beat each other," said Simpson, a frontrunner for the tour's top-player award, "as well as beat the field."

Category: Golf
 
 
 
 
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